The face of the web is changing, but are we keeping up with it? Forms are the basic unit of functionality, turning simple-looking web pages into feature-packed applications. But are we making full use of forms, pulling their full potential for making our users happy? This article describes a number of ways to customize web forms, to the ultimate goal of making users forget that they're using a form!
Back in the day, we all hated forms. They had more or less one purpose, to collect information. Whether it was a registration form, a survey, a comment form, they were all basically the same thing. Boring boxes that signified many minutes of mindless input, and minutes more satisfying the error messages produced by required fields that you missed. Of course we all expected a 'Submit' button at the bottom, accompanied by a button marked 'Reset'. This button ostensibly clears the form fields to their default state, but who really knows for sure, as I don't believe I've ever known a single person to click that button.
Because of the tedium and bother, forms have come to occupy the same valued position in people's minds as dentist appointments and cleaning cat litter. This is truly unfortunate, because there is incredible potential behind forms. So much so, that using forms properly can be the determining factor in the acceptance and overall enjoyment of any web-based application you design. With absolutely no impact on the actual operation and performance of your code, there are many enhancements you can make to the presentation layer of an application. We will examine some tried and tested techniques in this article.
Keep in mind, that the techniques I will go through are of such a nature that they should not even be noticed by users. If implemented properly, form design can be like that intangible feeling that makes one room in your house particularly more comfortable to be in than others. Maybe you can't pinpoint precisely what it is, you just know you enjoy it. That's our objective with web forms.